Experiencing a Career in a Technology Driven Research Area

NordWit is about women’s careers in technology-driven research and innovation in and outside of academia. The objective of NordWit is to enhance and investigate women’s career opportunities and trajectories, with the overarching goal to improve the gender. The NordWit team is multidisciplinary with lots of experienced and excellent researchers to learn from!

The team had a 2,5-day meeting in Uppsala a couple of weeks ago. Among other things we went through some of the interviews that we had done, and I couldn’t help but thinking how much of what was said that I have seen and experience first-hand. Now I don’t mean in my research studies, but in my life as a woman working in the area of Computer Science.

One of the experiences that I have had that correlated to many of the interviews is a feeling of not belonging to the technology area. In my case the area is computer science, and in the interviews the area is related to digital humanities or eHealth. I am convinced that in my case this feeling is based on several factors.

  • The first is that my area human-computer interaction is by many seen as a bit odd, and fluffy and not really belonging in computer science. The main thing, in my opinion, is that people think that computer science is only about technology and not about people. The image in the blog post, for example, is what you find when searching for computer science I have seen this a lot, and recently when doing an evaluation of an application of promotion I was indeed asked to motivate why my research area would be a part of the area. I did a well written motivation based on IEEE and ACM definitions -but it took me some extra hours of unnecessary work. So, my subject is not really at the core of computer science, and hence I am not really a computer scientist.
  • The other thing is of course that people do not really see women generally as computer scientists for many reasons. And perhaps not a woman like me. The core of the area includes an image of a man, being quite introvert doing technology for technology’s sake and spending lots of time at his computer. The image does not quite incorporate an outgoing woman loving people, collaboration and discussions. This also contributed to the feeling that I am not a computer scientist.
  • Finally, the career that I have had so far has not been very straight, quite the contrary. Most of my colleagues in computer science do not have this background, I would claim. It has been a nice ride with a wonderful experience, and for sure a great learning experience, but more winding than what one would think. Recently I wrote a text about my career that was published in ACM Crossroads where you can read more about my background.

This could be a very long blog post related to this topic of not belonging. In 2015 I got the chance to reflect on this, and I did a key note on being a woman in computer science. The key note was at the WomENcourage conference and was called “On Grit and Being a Token Figure” and perhaps that would be interesting for you and you find it on YouTube here.

Åsa Cajander

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